Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (c1667-1737)

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair though not prolific, is regarded as one of the great composers of French Cantata, along with Bernier, Campra, Clérambault and Rameau. According to Anthony, his ‘twenty French and four Italian cantatas..... published in three books (ca. 1709, ca. 1717, 1728) …constitute “a repository of neglected masterpieces”.'.


Mon 1

Tircis et Climene

Cantata

for soprano (e'-g''#), bass (A-e'), violin/flute and bc

Price: £ 8.50

Tircis et Climene is the sixth cantata in the third volume which is titled CANTATES/ A UNE ET DEUX VOIX/ AVEC SIMPHONIE./ Composées/ Par MR . Monteclair./ TROISIEME LIVRE/ qui contient huit Cantates Francoises,/ et une Cantate Italienne./ etc.

Of the cantatas in this volume, five are set with obbligato instruments, and most contain solo passages for the viol. Tircis et Climene is a simple pastoral piece, and contains none of the obvious dramatic or operatic effects that other works in this volume show; or example the sommeil in La Bergere, or the descent of Jupiter in Europpe. According to the contents page, the two duets and the Air Languissantes flammes are accompanied by a flute or violin; a violin is specified for the Airs Icy le soleil, and La sombre tristesse, but these are equally playable on the flute.

The shepherd and the shepherdess sing of the simple arcadian life they lead, but Tircis is troubled by love, which makes him sad and languorous. Climene on the other hand is cheerful and laughs alot; she upbraids Tircis, who promises to love more as she wishes. Together, they bid imaginary cares depart, and welcome the pleasures of love.

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Mon 2

Ariane et Bachus

Cantata

for soprano (d'-g''#), flute/violin and bc

Price: £ 6.90

Like the cantata Tircis et Climene, Ariane et Bachus is set “ avec une Flute ou un Violon”; in practice each instrument is assigned two of the airs. After an introductory recitative, Ariadne’s lament ‘Plus cruel que le Minotaure’ follows. A little symphony for solo viol and keyboard introduces an ariette accompanied by the viol. This leads into the air ‘Sur ces bords écartés’, which heralds the descent of Bacchus. This is set without continuo, with the flute as the obbligato instrument, while the violin doubles the voice. Bacchus offers Ariadne elevation to immortal status as a recompense for the loss of her faithless lover.
The cantata finishes with an air, in which, in effect, ladies disappointed in love are exhorted, with help from Bacchus, to drown their sorrows.

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Mon 3

Europe

Cantata

for soprano(c'-a''), violin/flute and bc

Price: £ 6.90

Europa, who was renowned for her beauty, was the daughter of the Phoenician king of Tyre, Agenor. According to some myths she was the daughter of Thetis, with whom Zeus was also love-struck, but who resisted his advances. (see Rameau’s Thétis, Green Man Press, Ref Ram 2). Zeus (=Jupiter) carries her off on his back to Crete, where she becomes its first queen.

The cantata, with its alternation of recitative with da capo arias on the Italian model, is typical of Montéclair’s works, and his arias, as Anthony points out, generally show that he “ treated the Italian form with great originality” . The first two arias here have extended A sections in three parts, with repeated use of a ritornello passage, and a development of the original vocal motif, which exemplifies this. The first aria, marked Gay, describes the descent of Jupiter, and his transforming himself into the form of a bull. The second, marked Gracieusement, exhorts the powers that live in the seas (the Tritons and Nereids) to assist and protect the lovers as they cross the ocean. The connecting recitative describes Europa’s enticement to go with her bull. The final recitative describes, with great delicacy, how Europa finally succumbs to his charms. As is usual in French cantatas, the final aria points the ‘moral’. To succeed in love, one must leave aside one’s elevated status – “Love and majesty do not go together”!

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Mon 4

Pan et Sirinx

Cantata

for soprano (c'-g''), violin or oboe or flute, viol and bc

Price: £ 9.50

Pan et Sirinx is the fourth in the second book Montéclair's cantatas

The story of Pan et Sirinx is taken from Book 1 of the Metamorphoses of Ovid: Syrinx is a hamadryad or wood-nymph who is devoted to Diana, and to chastity. When Pan the pastoral god, usually depicted as being half-man, half-goat sees her, he falls instantly in love. Syrinx immediately flees from this threat to her virginity. When Pan is on the point of catching her, she plunges into the river and appeals to the local deities for help. The river-god Ladon, said to be her father, transforms her into reeds. Pan declares that the reeds and the music that they make as the wind whistles through them shall be a perpetual remembrance of the lovely Syrinx, and the Pan-pipes shall be effective in the wooing of lovers.

The cantata depicts Syrinx, like her mistress Diana happy and fancy-free. Like Diana she goes hunting. Before the recitative which tells of Syrinx setting off at dawn, is a magical duo for the violin and viol; to this I have rather fancifully given the title L’Aurore. The hunt is then portrayed in a lively and protracted air in which the oboe stands in for the hunting horn. The following recitative tells the story of her escape from Pan, and her metamorphosis. This is followed by a tender lament by Pan accompanied by either the violin or the flute. This movement was printed in ‘void’ notation, possibly to indicate that the triple time is not in this case implying a brisk tempo, but rather the opposite. It was decided not to retain this notation, and the air has been duly transcribed into the equivalent black notation. The final air is a joyful hymn to love.

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